“For some products we have made the transition to offering them commercially,” says Pezzaniti. “We have licensed technology to a larger company and also become an original equipment manufacturer for special products. But our model is to operate as an R&D company and, when a technology matures, transition it to commercial production by licensing.”
An example is a 3D-vision upgrade kit developed by Polaris for the Talon unmanned ground vehicle, which can be purchased from the robot's manufacturer, Qinetiq, to replace the standard non-stereo camera and display—a swap-out that takes just 15 min., says Pezzaniti.
Some R&D funding still comes from SBIRs, but more and more is coming from other programs, with Polaris responding to requests for proposals from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Energy Department and NASA. Organizationally the company is highly matrixed, so its engineers work on multiple projects. “There is no boss who is always the boss, on all programs. There are four senior project leads and we all trust each other's judgement.”
A reputation for excellence has been key to the company's growth. “We have 6-8 strong customers and advocates who know our sensors well, and we have a good reputation within the community in our special niche,” says Pezzaniti. “We did a really good job for our first customer and he is still our customer, and has given us a lot of business over the years. He has published a lot of research papers and that has endeared us to the scientific community.”
Polarimetry remains a niche technology, but Polaris has developed connections with the larger aerospace and defense primes that could stand the company in good stead as the market evolves. “The polarization application space is still being developed. There are no commercial applications to put it into the mainstream yet, but several niche applications,” he says.
“We are looked at by the large defense contractors as a sub,” says Pezzaniti. “[But] some of the areas involving polarization could get big and we have contacts in the large companies that we could approach to offer our sensors and software through. We are known by a lot of the key players.”